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Author Profile: Rebecca Solnit

Each month, we research our authors so that you can learn more about their background and how their stories came to life.



Where she comes from & where she is now: Solnit was born in Bridgeport, CT and raised in Novato, CA, where she moved at age 5 with her family. Solnit currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

Where she studied: Solnit did not complete high school - she instead enrolled in an alternative public junior high school in CA and completed her GED after the equivalent of tenth grade at age 15. She then enrolled in Junior College and, when she was 17, left the US to study in Paris, France. When she returned, she finished her college degree at San Francisco State University. In 1984, she completed her masters in Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

You might know her from: Solnit’s writing has been featured in many publications, both in print and online. Her work has received a number of awards: she has been the recipient of two NEA fellowships, a Guggenheim fellowship, and a Creative Capital Award. Her 2003 book River of Shadows, Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West received the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. Her essay (and DBC selection) Men Explain Things to Me is credited with inspiring the term “mansplaining.”

When’s she’s not writing: Solnit has participated in academic programs, such as serving as Columbia University's "visiting artist and thinker" in October 2016.  As described as a profile of Solnit in Elle Magazine, “The monthlong residency coincided with the release of yet another book, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, the final installment in a series that unearths the lesser-told stories of three major American cities (the other two are New Orleans and her hometown of San Francisco) through artists' renderings of maps and thematically diverse essays by herself and others. The New York iteration, coedited by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, includes one map that marks the locations and costs of Manhattan's private SAT tutoring centers and schools, alongside public parks and libraries (which are, of course, free), and another that reimagines the subway system with every stop named for an impressive woman—Joan Didion, Alicia Keys, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. "Almost every city is full of men's names, names that are markers of who wielded power, who made history, who held fortunes," Solnit writes. The implicit question: What if we lived in a city that celebrated us?” Read the rest of the profile here.

Solnit on writing: 

[What moves you most in a work of literature?]

To recognize a pattern and a meaning and an order in the world you didn’t quite see before is exhilarating, and sometimes even exalting, and there is a moral beauty in the actions people perform out of generosity and courage that stirs and fortifies me — it’s why I read and write about political activism and public life.” -Solnit

There’s so much more to know: Solnit has one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen in the NYTimes By the Book series. If you’re as much of a fan of the series as I am, you’ll know hers is one for the books.